Katrina housing program reaches Saucier woman after 4 years without water or electric

Sun Herald

Anita Lee

SAUCIER — A mother and daughter’s Katrina odyssey ended at Christmas, after they lived for four years on the family property, without water or electricity, in a leaking dome tent and then metal sheds.

A new mobile home was delivered to Nancy Fauth’s four acres in Saucier in December, nearly ten years after the storm. Fauth and her daughter, Brandy, received the three-bedroom mobile home through the Neighborhood Home Program, the last housing recovery effort undertaken by the Mississippi Development Authority with federal disaster aid from the hurricane,

NHP was designed to reach South Mississippi’s most vulnerable residents, those who either fell through the cracks or did not qualify for earlier housing assistance. Reilly Morse, then a senior attorney and now president of the Mississippi Center for Justice, pushed for the program because he knew thousands of homeowners with wind damage were not being helped, and would not be helped, by homeowner-assistance programs that focused on damage from Katrina’s massive tidal surge. Many of those still in need, Morse said, were elderly, poor or both.

The last NHP clients should be served by Katrina’s 10th anniversary in August, MDA spokesman Jeff Rent said. The program has to date assisted 5,109 households, with 153 cases outstanding. The total budget for NHP is $213 million.

Katrina relocation

Nancy Fauth, 54, had a good job before Katrina hit. She was a dealer at Treasure Bay Casino, which Katrina destroyed. She was not sure when the casino would reopen.

After the storm, Fauth spent a month in a Red Cross shelter with her elderly parents, who lost their home in East Biloxi. Once they were settled in an apartment with one of her siblings, Fauth went to check on her property. She had two old mobile homes on the land, having hoped one day to combine them into one. Katrina, she said, had pretty much finished them off. The roofs were damaged and mold climbed the walls.

Nonetheless, a housing inspector declared at least one of the trailers habitable.

Fauth did not argue, but she and her daughter, who had asthma, were unable to live there. They instead joined FEMA’s relocation program, moving to Laughlin, Nev., where Nancy Fauth soon found casino work. Brandy Fauth, now 30, worked for awhile as a waitress, returning to school after she injured her ankle.

Nancy Fauth’s casino job lasted three years, but she lost it right before the economy went south. The Fauths were essentially homeless when a church raised the money to help them return to South Mississippi in December 2009. For about two years they lived in a large domed tent, which was cold and damp when it rained, no matter what they did to keep out the water.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Nancy Fauth said. “I tossed and turned at night. It was very hard, but that’s what we had to work with.”

Hope dips, rises

The Fauths both found jobs in Gulfport convenience stores. They often slept in the one car they shared between shifts so they would not have to spend money on gas driving back and forth to Saucier. They subsisted on potted meat, crackers, pork and beans and other canned food. Sometimes, chips and dip served as a meal. If they managed to buy hot dogs to cook over a makeshift grill at their home camp, it was a treat.

People generally ignored their plight. Some quickly tired of hearing about their troubles. Few and far between, they said, were the kind-hearted strangers who became helpful friends. Neighbors loaned them a hose so they could have running water to bathe; one woman gave them $20 a month for gas.

A senior citizen’s center even offered daytime shelter from the heat. There, they made friends and took up painting, using the blank backs of wallpaper squares for canvas. It was one of the ways they entertained themselves at their frills-free camp.

In 2011, they moved into small metal sheds bought with Brandy Fauth’s income-tax return. One of the sheds leaked, but the other was dry.

Brandy Fauth said she often slept in the yard, where it was cooler, on a cushioned outdoor lounge chair. Nancy Fauth fashioned tarps and old sheets into bathroom walls. They dug holes for the waste. Toilet paper was more precious than gold. They could not buy it with food stamps.

At the end of 2011, someone from a homeless program told them they might qualify for a new Katrina housing program. Nancy Fauth was skeptical, but signed up. She learned that she qualified for the Neighborhood Home Program.

The Fauths had a long wait. They would soon be out of the cold, they were told. Then it became, “We’re going to get you out of the heat.” But winter returned.

And then the mobile home arrived. Nancy Fauth never thought she would have a new home, free and clear. Her daughter is able to pay monthly bills with a part-time job at Walmart. With only one car, they no longer try to both hold down jobs.

Their clothes are stacked in plastic boxes in their bedrooms because neither of the women has a dresser. Their beds are on the floor. But they are happy to have running water, air conditioning and, at last, a real home.

Fauth loves her master bedroom and bath with a walk-in closet.

“Even if it’s raining,” she said, “you can take a bath.”